Monday, June 14, 2010
Past meets present.
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After watching the Seattle game and the Chicago game, I finally got what I was looking for - a suspense-filled game that never failed to keep my interest and ended in a Dream victory. So I'll give you my minute-by-minute impressions.
1) Erika, Iziane, and Yelena Leuchanka were shooting around before the game started. It's kind of an odd trio, since as far as I know Leuchanka doesn't speak Portugese. They seemed to get along fine, though....
2) ...or maybe, it's just Leuchanka's personality. Before the game, Edwige Lawson-Wade of the Sparks walked up to Leuchanka and the two chatted a little while. Without going to basketball-reference.com, I don't quite know the Leuchanka-Lawson-Wade connection. Maybe they played together in Turkey, or somewhere in Europe. I dunno.
3) It seems that every coach except for Marynell Meadors was out there working on drills with the Dream before the game start. I definitely saw Carol Ross. I could have sworn I saw both Fred Williams and Sue Panek out there. With eleven players and three coaches, it looked like the Dream were holding a convention on their side ofthe court.
4) Ross was working with the posts again. This drill involved long passes to the posts from the perimeter, with the goal of the posts to bank it in or otherwise make the bucket. Ross can really heave the ball - I wonder if Ross could hit a 3-pointer if she wanted to?
5) Early on in the crowd, I saw a fan walking to find her seat. She was wearing a Silver Stars T-Shirt - #25, Hammon's jersey.
Reading RebKell, I've discovered that there is an unwritten kind of jersey protocol. As far as I can tell, this is how jerseys are "supposed" to be worn by fans. In descending order of preference:
a) Atlanta Dream jerseys with current players
b) Atlanta Dream jerseys with previous players (Lennox, Latta, Holdsclaw....)
c) Retired Hall-of-Famer jerseys (Cooper, Griffith)
d) Jerseys of the corresponding NBA team, if it exists - for Atlanta, this would be Atlanta Hawks jerseys
e) Jerseys of the enemy team (Hammon, in this case) - the person wearing the jersey can be teased, but abuse is classless unless the wearer of the enemy jersey is provoking abuse
f) A "personalized" Dream jersey with your nickname instead of the player name and a number not in use
g) A "personalized" Dream jersey with your real name and a number not in use
h) A "personalized" Dream jersey adorned with the number of an existing player, but not that player's name - say, wearing Shalee Lehning's number (#5) with your last name instead of "Lehning" (the crime is that you've obliterated the player)
i) Any overly "femmy" jersey in pastel colors - if your jersey is pink because it was worn by a Dream player during their Breast Cancer Awareness game, you get an exception
This protocol isn't listed anywhere, it's just what I happened to have picked up following various threads. Supposedly, a male wearing any WNBA jersey is at the bottom of the list, because it's supposedly the gHey. On the other hand, most of the writers who came up with that rule seem to be douches, so if you're a guy and you want to wear a WNBA jersey, let your freak flag fly, baby!
6) And then, I saw them - Chamique Holdsclaw and later Michelle Snow wearing black and silver. Enemy colors. At Philips Arena. I don't know how to think about that. On the one hand, good for you that you've found another team where you can practice your considerable basketball skillz. On the other hand...black and silver. Enemy colors. Holdsclaw and Snow, you're violating the jersey code!
7) The National Anthem was sung by R&B singer Crystal Renee'. I thought it was okay. It could have been great for all I know; I'm no Simon Cowell.
8) Twice during the game, three superfans were honored by the Dream. The name of one was (I think) Arthur Fisk, and I never caught the name of the other two.
Why are they superfans? They climbed Mount Everest, and displayed the banner of the Atlanta Dream at basecamp. For these fans, the Dream is clearly on Top of the World.
9) Before the game: very quiet for some reason, the calm before the not-Seattle storm.
10) And then, I saw them again. The Brazilians! I tried to get a snapshot with my camera but my camera failed. They always sit in the same section and bear two big Brazilian flags, and are always wearing gold-colored shirts. This means that they are obviously Kansas State fans here to root for Shalee Lehning.
11) San Antonio's starting lineup: Lawson-Wade, Hammon, Young, Holdsclaw, and Snow. The big question - would the Atlanta faithful boo Holdsclaw? The mix was right down the middle, cheers and boos. Call Dream fandom ambivalent.
Atlanta's starting lineup: the usual - Lehning, Lyttle, Erika, Iziane and McCoughtry
12) Participating at the ceremonial ball exchange: Valdosta High School. No word as to if they brought their own posse.
13) A representative of Kia Motors was on hand on center court - Meadors and the Kia representative presented the Eastern Confererence Player of the Month award to Angel McCoughtry. McCoughtry's going to have to build extra shelf space for all of these.
14) Before the game, the jumbotron showed Lehning and McCoughtry singing "Ticket to Ride". No, that's not true. Rather, they were giving directions to the Dream. The game was about to start.
15) If there was a word to characterize the first quarter, it would be intense. I told myself, "it looks like "first team to crack up loses". The refs were determined to blow their whistle, and that meant that the Dream would be tested at the free throw line early on.
Before the game, the Dream's free throw average was hovering at a dismal 64 percent. With nine minutes to go, Sancho Lyttle would be the first Dream player to be tested at the charity stripe. She hit both of her shots - a good portent - and the Dream were up 4-2.
16) The Dream and the Silver Stars were determined to match shot for shot. Lehning hit a 3-pointer from the right side to put the Dream up 9-8...but Edwige Lawson-Wade matched that with a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to bring the Silver Stars back up 11-9.
Before Lawson-Wade got her hands on the ball, McCoughtry had it, and it seemed that McCoughtry had a little trouble with handling the ball.
17) With about 4 1/2 minutes left to play in the first quater and the game tied at 11-11, Sancho Lyttle was called for her second personal foul. It's like clockwork - expect Lyttle to have two personal fouls, right away. I don't know if it's due to Lyttle's (relative) inexperience or if its due to the fact that post players pick up a lot of personal fouls. But, based on non-scientific observation, it appears that Lyttle always picks up two personal fouls early and sits down.
Alison Bales came in to replace Lyttle, Bales being our first option off the bench. Holdsclaw took a breather. Our first option off the bench immediately made a bad pass that helps you understand why Bales, even with her talents, isn't starting.
18) With the Silver Stars up 14-13, Toby Wyman (the Dream's COO) came out to honor the executive director of an organization called L. E. A. D. L. E. A. D. is an Atlanta organization designed to develop leadership, but I don't know what the initials stand for, and I couldn't find out at the website. I believe the honoree was Kelly Stuart, but I can't be positive about the name speling.
19) Sign watch: I haven't seen many fans carry signs into Philips so far this year, but someone was carrying a sign honoring Ali Bales. Anyone can carry a sign honoring Angel McCoughtry, or bring in a couple of Brazilian flags, but when your sign honors the future 2010 Sixth Woman of the Year, that means that you're a hardcore Dream fan. Either that, or a hardcore fan of very tall women.
20) At the beginning of the game, I looked at the empty seats surrounding me and I thought, "Well, that's just swell - a second game with only 2,000 in attendance." But with the first quarter halfway over, the fans were still coming in. I said, "Hmm...this crowd is starting to fill out a little...."
21) San Antonio extended its lead to 17-13 after a 3-pointer right of the arc from Edwige Lawson-Wade. Clearly, Shalee Lehning wasn't the answer to Lawson-Wade, so Lehning was yanked and Kelly Miller came in.
McCoughtry got a layup, and then Kelly Miller fed Erika de Souza for the basket, and suddenly it was a 17-17 game all over again. That's when San Antonio brought Holdsclaw back in.
22) The Dream are still wearing their tattoos to honor Kyle, this game's honoree of the "Armed With a Dream" program from the Atlanta Children's Hospital.
23) A great play near the end of the first quarter. Chamique Holdsclaw had the ball, and was ready to drive to the basket. Her sole defender was Alison Bales. Holdsclaw tried to post up the ball over Bales, but found that 6 feet 7 inches was simply too great an obstacle. The ball didn't fall, and McCoughtry ended up with the ball and sprinted to the other end to tie it at 20-20. The quarter would have ended at 20-20 if not for a 3-pointer by Roneeka Hodges with one second left to end the quarter with the visitors up 23-20.
24) At the end of the game, both teams were fairly evenly matched statistically. The Dream was shooting 42.9 percent, and the Silver Stars were shooting 41.2 percent. However, the Silver Stars were 4-for-7 from the 3-point line.
25) Yelena Leuchanka came out to start the second quarter. Leuchanka is our second option off the bench in the post and clearly, she's no Alison Bales. First, she threw the ball away with a bad pass. Then, she had a shot blocked by Michelle Snow. But eventually, the Dream found her and she hit a wide-open jumper to bring us back to 23-22.
26) Both teams had a sweet mid-range game going, with jumper after jumper falling in. It was 29-26 in favor of the visitors with 6:31 left in the half.
This is when the Dream had their "Stars at the Sun" promotion, to convince fans to vote for Dream players for the All-Star Game. Angel McCoughtry gave the intro, then Lyttle, Iziane and Erika added "and me!" and Lehning wrapped it up. The way Erika said "and me!" you'd suspect that they were the only words in English she knew...but she said them with enthusiasm.
27) With about 4 minutes to go in the half and the score tied, people were still marching in. The crowd was now looking pretty good. I thought that it was going to be...maybe...announced in the 7,000 range. Crowds this big usually get announced in the 7,000 range.
28) After calling their second full-time out, the Silver Stars seemed to settle down. Hammon scored one of those under the basket "loop-de-loops" at Marynell Meadors calls them to put the Silver Stars up 33-29. Hammon was staring to get warmed up.
The Dream were down 35-33, and Lehning made a diving save to the ground that made me wince, given Lehning's history of shoulder surgery. While the Dream were playing, it made it back to me that Candace Parker had suffered a similar shoulder injury and was headed to the hospital. Maybe Lehning needs to play with one of those giant braces that Parker plays in, just as a protective measure.
29) Just before the half was over, Lyttle made her third personal foul. She left the floor. Sophia Young drove to the basket, and Ruth Riley followed with a layup to give the Silver Stars the 39-35 lead. The last basket by the Dream was off a drive by Erika de Souza, and the Dream entered the halftime break down by two points, 39 to 37.
30) Halftime: as the fans aren't privy to what goes on during a halftime speech, we instead got to look at a Zumba party. (I told my wife that I got to see a Zumba party at the Dream game, and she said, "What, the vacuum cleaner?"
Zumba, for those who don't know what it is, is a new exercise craze that looks a lot like Latin dancing. Now, no one has ever confused me with Michael Jackson but if dancing and exercise are your things, you might want to try the Zumba. It looked kind of cool.
They also had more "person bowling". I think I explained this in a previous post. Seven gigantic plastic pins are set up at one end of a court, and a person sits on a small wheeled platform at the other end. His or her partner pushes the person on the platform down the court into the plastic pins.
I don't think they got more than three pins in either attempt. No strikes or even spares. Clearly, it will be a long time before person bowling becomes a demonstration Olympic sport.
31) With the start of the third quarter de Souza made another layup and we were tied 39-39. The Dream didn't leave the locker room cautious: on the contrary. Erika de Souza tried a lob pass to Iziane Castro Marques under the basket, and it would have been a perfect play except for the fact that Erika threw it just a little too hard. Iziane was forced to lean backwards to catch it, and she had no time to correct her posture before shooting.
32) Both sides went back to trading baskets again. One of those baskets was a semi-"alley oop" to Sancho Lyttle, or it would have been a true alley oop if Lyttle could leap that high. It was a high lob pass to Lyttle's outstreched hand when she was at layup distance from the basket.
33) Becky Hammons hit a 3-pointer with 6:34 left to give San Antonio a 51-47 lead. I say "Hammons" because that's what the announcer said, and the announcer is always right. (Hmm...whatever happened to Art Eckman, by the way?)
34) With about 5:40 left on the clock, Holdsclaw hit a jumper to put San Antonio up 53-48. Sancho Lyttle followed that with a bank shot and Iziane drove to the hoop and before San Antonio knew it, the game was almost tied again at 53-52. Time out, San Antonio.
35) During the time out, the celebrity dads and daughters came out and did some sort of dance contest. Among the participants were Ryan Cameron and his daughter or daughters, and I could swear that they mentioned that the daughter of Ludacris was there.
I found it very hard to pay attention, and didn't know who won the contest. The reason being that I was distracted by the Atlanta Dream mascot, Star. Star was dressed in a blue and red padded suit with red flowing cape - Star had transformed himself into "SuperStar"!!
36) ...and that's pretty much when the Dream transformed itself into SuperDream.
Angel McCoughtry once said that basketball is a game of runs. There was only one real run in this game, though. For almost the entire final six minutes of the third quarter, they just shut down the Silver Stars defensively.
Atlanta went on a 17-0 run. Steals. Free throws by Lehning. Lay ups by Lyttle. A bad 3-second violation call in Atlanta's favor. San Antonio going over the limit in personal fouls. Fate had suddenly tilted in the Dream's favor and San Antonio couldn't untilt no matter how hard they tried.
Down 53-49, the Dream found themselves up by double-digits at the end of the amazing run. They led by 66-55 with 39.4 seconds left in the third. Only a basket by Michelle Snow broke the run, and the Dream took a 66-55 lead into the fourth quarter.
37) All of a sudden, little dots could be seen at the top of the Philips Arena dome. It was time for another Aaron's Parachute Dog Drop! Aaron's Inc. is one of the Dream's sponsors and every now and then, little Aaron's mascot dogs - Lucky the Dog, I believe - parachute into the hands of waiting fans.
Those damned things were everywhere, but the fans didn't mind. I found myself grabbing one of those, but then I caught myself - hey, I don't have any kids - why do I even want one of these things? - after I grabbed it, I slung it in a random direction.
Unfortunately, I had slung it away from the "second place finisher" - the man who almost got it before I threw it away. My friends told me the poor fellow looked crestfallen. He probably had a kid, too, that would have liked that pup. I learned a valuable lesson that day - never get between a man and his dog.
38) The fourth quarter started, and it looked like the Dream wasn't going to keep its double-digit lead for long. The Silver Stars began to claw their way back into the game with the help of "The Claw" - Holdsclaw, who scored three points in the first half, five in the third quarter and was steadily gaining speed. She hit a jumper and then a couple of free throws to bring it back to 68-61.
With the score 70-61 in favor of the Dream, Armintie Price was called for a foul. I could see Shalee Lehning jawing with the referee. Oh, Lehning. Her image is of sweetness and light, and there she is giving the ref a hard time. You keep this up and we'll have to call you Diana Lehning.
39) San Antonio was determined to get the game down into 6-point territory come what may. Price was doing her damnest out there. With the Dream up 72-65, she got a steal but she couldn't hang on to the ball, and ended up doing an impromptu split on the Philips Arena home floor.
With 6:02 left in the game, the Dream called a full timeout.
40) During the full timeout, it was time for Dream Karaoke. The singer this time was Sancho Lyttle, who was singing some completely unrecognizable song which turned out to be "Glamorous" by Fergie. The contestant figured out Sancho's song, and then said to the crowd, "I'm glad Sancho can play ball."
40a) Did you know every Sunday home game they have family free throws at Philips Arena? After the game, the families can come out to the court, stand in line, and take a toss from the free throw line. That's kind of cool.
41) With less than five minutes left, McCoughtry got to the basket on a dubious skip step that put the Dream up by double digits again, 76-65. Holdsclaw got a couple of free throws and then another drive to the basket to close back to single digits, 78-69.
On the boards, it was another story. Atlanta got two second chances due to their offensive rebounding muscle, and Bales got the foul. Two free throws by Bales and it was 80-69.
42) With the Dream up 80-71, I saw something I had never seen...at least, I think I have never seen it. Lehning was moving the ball into the post area and generally, when Lehning gets the ball in that far she flees - she'll try desperately to kick it out rather than take a shot even if it's a wide-open shot.
She had the wide open shot and she hesitated a little - but she managed to calm herself and take the close up shot which she hit. 82-71 Dream. I suppose Lehning figured that she needed to make shots before Kelly Miller snapped up her starting position.
43) The Dream led 86-75. There was 2:01 left in the game. The Dream had entered the RuPaul Zone, where all you needed to do to win is to "don't f**k it up".
With exactly one minute left, Holdsclaw hit a basket to bring it to double digits, 86-77. The Silver Stars, needing points fast, but the ball into the hands of Edwige Lawson-Wade.
With about a minute on the clock, she hit a 3-pointer. 86-80 Dream. The ball ended up in McCoughtry's hands, but Sophia Young got the steal. Becky Hammon put the ball in Edwige Lawson-Wade's hands and she hit another 3-pointer with 28.7 seconds left. The score was now 86-83 Dream, and it looked like the Dream might need to LipSync For (Their) Life.
Needing to invoke the powers of SuperStar, the Dream handed the T-Shirt Shooting Gun back to Star - a sign of desperation, since Star once had it taken away from him after he aimed it at Bill Laimbeer.
44) With the Dream having the ball back with 28.7 seconds left, the Silver Stars would have to foul to get the ball back. Helen Darling and Edwige Lawson-Wade fouled in sucession, and McCoughtry visited the free throw line with 24.5 seconds left.
McCoughtry made the first shot. And the second. 88-83 Dream. San Antonio called for a 20-second time out, and then another one, back-to-back.
45) During the time out, it was odd to see Carol Ross giving instructions to the huddle. Marynell Meadors hung around outside the huddle as if she were Brittainey Raven.
46) Third time's the charm, right? When the Silver Stars got the ball they gave it to Lawson-Wade again, but she missed the 3-pointer with 8.9 seconds left. Snow got the rebound...but she was called for the travel with 7.6 seconds left. The ball was back in the Dream's hands. Iziane would bring in the ball and she was directing traffic on the court with her free hand.
47) 6.2 seconds left. The Silver Stars got Lehning on the foul. Lehning to the free throw line. If she hit both shots, the game was essentially over.
However, Lehning missed the first shot. That's okay. If Lehning hit the second, the Dream would be up by six and San Antonio would need two 3-pointers just to tie.
Then...Lehning missed the second shot. The shot bounced off the front of the rim and there was a mad scramble. Lehning got her own rebound and tried to lay it up but Snow blocked her shot. The ball ended up in Sancho Lyttle's hands and she made a shot with less than a second left.
It went in! 90-83 Dream. San Antonio got the ball back, to no avail! The game was over. A few minutes before the game was over, Lyttle had been named the Player of the Game. She finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds, and the crucial final rebound and basket.
Great game! And more about it later!